COLLINSVILLE, IL -- Illinois State Police Director Sam Nolen and Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Kirk Brown today advised travelers that the visit of Pope John Paul II to St. Louis on January 26 and 27 will have a huge impact on the citizens of Illinois. With more than 600,000 expected to attend, officials are warning motorists that massive traffic congestion may occur.
"We are sending troopers from all areas of the state to assist with traffic enforcement and safety issues which will arise during the Pope’s visit," Nolen said. "People who are considering making the trip should be aware of the potential problems."
Crowded interstates and heavy traffic are expected in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. "The Pope’s visit will take place during the work week when bridge traffic is already extremely heavy," said Secretary Brown. "Approximately 140,000 vehicles a day normally cross the Martin Luther King and Poplar Street bridges over the Mississippi River at downtown St. Louis. When we close the Martin Luther King Bridge on January 26 and 27, that traffic will also have to use the remaining bridges that connect Illinois to Missouri. The Martin Luther King Bridge carries 35,000 vehicles a day. When we then add the traffic of those visitors coming to see the Pope, massive traffic congestion within the region is expected."
Secretary Brown and Director Nolen advised people traveling to the metro area for the Papal visit to be aware of the following issues:
Parking in Illinois is available only for those who have tickets to Papal events. Immediate Tow Zones will be in effect from January 25-28 on some metro-east interstates. Tow trucks will operate 24 hours a day to immediately remove vehicles stopped within these areas. The vehicles will be towed to designated lots close to the interstate, and a fee of $125 will be charged for all vehicles towed during this period. This is being done to clear lanes for emergency vehicles. Areas designated as Immediate Tow Zones are: I-55/70: Poplar Street Bridge complex to Illinois Route 157 I-64: Poplar Street Bridge complex to Illinois Route 159 IL 203: Bend Road to I-55/70 IL 3: Monsanto Avenue to Poplar Street Bridge complex Six bridges connect Illinois to Missouri. Three bridges -- Poplar Street, Martin Luther King, and McKinley, are the most direct routes to St. Louis and main Papal events. The remaining bridges -- Jefferson Barracks (I-255), Chain of Rocks (I-270), and Alton, connect to counties surrounding St. Louis and will have heavy traffic. Nevertheless, they are alternate routes to bypass major St. Louis traffic. Memorial Drive ramp from Poplar Street Bridge will be closed January 26 from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. From 9 p.m. on January 26 to 9 p.m. on January 27, the Martin Luther King Bridge will be closed to traffic. Extensive traffic congestion is expected for those traveling from Illinois to St. Louis during this time.
During previous Papal events, it was common to see large masses of people walking or participating in pilgrimages. Those coming to the St. Louis metropolitan area need to be aware this will not be possible if they are traveling from Illinois to Missouri. "With bridges being the only way to enter St. Louis from Illinois, walking to Papal events will be almost impossible," Secretary Brown said. "None of the three bridges entering Illinois has walkways for pedestrians, and with the heavy volume of vehicles expected, it will not be safe for walkers on the interstates or bridges."
Those traveling through the area or attending the Papal visit should be prepared for extreme winter weather. Before leaving on your trip to St. Louis, Director Nolen and Secretary Brown recommend you:
Take time to plan your travel, selecting both primary and alternate routes. Check area weather reports before you leave, and listen to your radio for the latest weather information. Try not to travel alone, and if possible, travel with other vehicles. Watch for ice patches on overpasses, under overpasses and on bridges. Seek a safe place to stop if the weather or traveling conditions begin to deteriorate, and stop immediately. Check your battery, the condition of your cables, and all belts on your car. Check the fluid levels of your battery, brakes, transmission, radiator, and windshield, making sure those needing temperature protection have fresh antifreeze. Change your oil to recommended winter weight. Check tire tread, condition of tires, and tire pressure. Put on snow tires, if necessary. Check all lights to ensure you can see.....and be seen. Check windshield wiper blades and replace them if needed. Check your brakes to ensure equal balance when braking. Make sure your gas tank is always above the half-full level. Allow extra time for travel. Carry these items in your vehicle: a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, flares/fuses, jumpers for your battery, tow cable, extra winter clothing, boots, blankets, and food. If you should become stuck or stranded during extreme weather, you have a better chance of survival if you stay in your vehicle. Director Nolen said, "The vehicle provides shelter and the heater should be run periodically. That is why you should keep your fuel level at the half-full mark. Make sure snow or other objects do not obstruct your exhaust pipe. Select a window on the downwind side of the vehicle and open it slightly. This will provide fresh air and help you hear anyone approaching the vehicle."
IDOT has a 24-hour weather condition phone to check road conditions throughout the state. The number is 1-800-452-4368. Each ISP district also has a weather/ road condition telephone number for up-to-date conditions. District 11's (metro east) number is 618-346-3636.